So you want to become a non-executive director? Here are 5 things you should know
Earlier this month we held our first non-executive director breakfast event. Led by Baroness Virginia Bottomley, Chair of Odgers Berndtson’s Board Practice, we invited Sir Peter Rogers, NED and former Chief Executive of Westminster City Council, and Irene Lucas CBE, Board Chair and former Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council to share their thoughts on what it takes to become a non-executive director.
They told us what skills and attributes were necessary for the role, as well as how those who are currently Chief Executives can successfully transition to the non-executive director position. Whether you are considering becoming a non-executive director or are interviewing for a role, here are the 5 things you ought to know:
1.) Ensure your values match those of the organisation
You need to take the values of the organisation into as much consideration as the role itself. Being a non-executive director is about diplomacy and the ability to use emotional intelligence to work with and challenge others. This is going to be that much harder if you’re working alongside individuals who don’t share the same mind-set and aspirations as you.
With this in mind, you should be clear about whether you are pursuing the non-executive director role for commercial reasons or are in it for the greater good. Whatever your answer is, it needs to coincide with the culture and values of the organisation you’re thinking of joining.
2.) Don’t interfere with the staff
The vast majority of non-executive directors come from Chief Executive stock, a hands-on position that requires a central presence at the helm of a company. On the other hand, a non-executive director needs to be more of a mentor. It means taking a step back and leaving the day-to-day running of the company to the directors. They should be the ones leading the organisation; your role is to provide guidance and to ensure that they’re on the right course.
If you’re joining a company that is in an industry you’ve not been exposed to before, then you need to start by standing back and taking it all in. Listen to the experts and those around you in order to build up your knowledge. Once you’ve done this, you’re in a position to start offering advice from your own experience.
3.) Come equipped with the right skillset
There’s often a lot of anxiety when it comes to appointing a non-executive director. Boards want someone that they can confidently turn to for expert advice and who they can rely on in a time of crisis. If you have experience of mergers and acquisitions, and can prove that you’ve turned around an organisation, you will be an attractive candidate to Boards. Auditing, budgetary reviewing and balance sheet responsibilities are other sought after skills in non-executive directors. You will also be expected to embrace digital transformation in organisations.
Having a mix of commercial and public sector knowledge is hugely beneficial, especially if you’re joining a corporate Board from the public sector; you’re ability to understand and translate what the government and regulators are saying will be invaluable. When it comes to interviewing, you should talk about the size of budgets you’ve looked after and the number of people you’ve recruited and managed.
4.) Plan for a sporadic workload
A non-executive role might be advertised for three days a month but in reality you could be working intensely for 10 days of one month and then none at all for the following three months. In such a role you’re expected to be ‘on call’ whenever you’re needed so there’s little you can do about this other than go into the role with the knowledge that this is often the nature of the beast.
If you’re in the position where you’re managing a portfolio of boards, then you should hire a personal assistant or secretary who can manage your diary effectively.
5.) The relationship with the Chief Executives
As a non-executive director you’re there to mentor and guide those on the Board; to provide constructive criticism and advice. However, you’re also there to hold them to account, scrutinise the management’s performance and ensure agreed objectives are being met. As a non-executive director you’re walking a fine line between business partner and judge; a unique role that can be hugely fulfilling.
The importance of this relationship cannot be underestimated, particularly at a time where Boards have to work on a 3-6 month planning cycle in an uncertain political and economic environment. Setting strategic direction for the long term is one thing, having the agility within a Board to adapt to fast moving circumstances, especially in the wake of high profile corporate failures is another. Supporting, advising, challenging and scrutinising are all part of the role. Not too close but not too distant; the sooner an effective relationship is established with the Chief Executive the better.
For further information or if you’re interested in attending our next event, please contact Jes Ladva